Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
PORTSMOUTH — Coming into this past basketball season, people doubted Notre Dame’s girls.
The Titans had just said goodbye to Katie Dettwiller, their 6-foot-4 all-state senior, and were coming off a regional semifinal run that ended in heartbreak with a loss to Peebles.
That team, one that centered around Dettwiller, was supposed to be the team … the team to break the mold, the team to set a new trend, and the team to rewrite history.
So, without Dettwiller and the rest of the 2019 senior class, the doubts were at an abundance.
However, that didn’t apply to Ava Hassel.
The junior didn’t care what outsiders thought and she didn’t care where her Titans we’re supposed to finish.
Ava Hassel only cared about the things she’s always cared about most: her teammates and winning with them by her side. So, in effect, she immediately went to work on becoming better than she’d ever been.
“I definitely knew I had to step up even more with scoring to provide for the team this year,” Hassel said. “Throughout the year, I believe I became a true leader. I tried to set the tone defensively by picking up the ball full-court, pressuring the ball-handler and being at the top of our zone defense. Our defense is a massive part in [transitioning to] our offense, so I had to set the tone.”
Each and every night, Hassel set the tone.
By year’s end, she had posted 15.9 points per game and had led Notre Dame to a 24-3 overall record. Alongside her scoring, she also added 3.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.3 steals per night.
Those numbers pace the Titans to a fourth straight SOC I championship, a third straight district title, and the program’s first-ever regional final appearance — possibly the most impressive accomplishment.
The team that had been doubted became one of the best, if not the best, teams in program history.
“The season as a whole was just awesome. We had a veteran group this year and we all worked our butts off every single day to get to where we got,” Hassel said. “The season was so special because of everyone that surrounded me throughout … from my teammates, coaches, my parents and family, and the whole Notre Dame family that backed us the entire season.”
Notre Dame’s historic season ended with a 49-31 loss to Beverly Fort Frye in a Division IV regional semifinal. When all the dust had settled, Hassel was the SOC I’s Player of the Year, a first-team all-district selection and a second-team All-Ohio honoree.
For those achievements, alongside a long list of impressive individual performances throughout the season, Hassel has been selected as SOSA’s co-Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“Being named Player of the Year is a direct reflection on my teammates, coaches and my parents,” Hassel said. “I wouldn’t be in the position I am without any of them. My coaches push me to be the player I am today. My parents always support me with everything and for that, I am very thankful.”
The Titans are thankful to have Hassel playing for them and not against them.
In the SOC I alone, Hassel helped Notre Dame finish 14-0 and limit opponents to 28.3 points per game. But if there is one game Hassel looks back to the most, it wasn’t a conference tilt. It was a match up against Oak Hill on Jan. 27 … a come-from-behind 52-43 win.
“It was on the road and we knew Oak Hill would be ready to play and that they were a very solid team,” Hassel said. “We came out with a slow start, but as the game went on, we flipped the switch and turned into the team that we could be. We played together and came back to win the game.”
Then, of course, there’s the tournament run, which included wins over Clay, Manchester, Belpre and Peebles — the very team that had broken the Titans’ hearts a year before.
“Making it to the Elite Eight was something some people probably wouldn’t have guessed we would’ve [accomplished],” Hassel said. “But the whole team had a goal and we pushed each other everyday for it. It was an awesome experience and a goal that we didn’t work for just this year, but something we’ve worked for since I have been in high school.”
While Hassel’s junior year has ended, her career hasn’t … which is bad news for opponents.
Next season will look a bit different, though. Hassel will have to play without backcourt partner in crime Taylor Schmidt as well as departed seniors Cassie Schaefer, Olivia Smith, Lauren Campbell and Paetyn Collins.
But despite those setbacks and holes to fill, Ava Hassel has never backed down from a challenge.
“I know I’ll have to step up more than ever, leading and setting the tone. I honestly cannot believe that the next time I suit up will be my last time. It truly does go by fast,” Hassel said. “We aren’t going to settle for where we ended this year. I believe many people are going to overlook us because of the senior class we are losing. But I can’t wait to be the underdog. We have some young girls ready to get their shot and we’ve just got to work hard with them in the offseason.”